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Killing with laughter: 'A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder' opens at ACT

Killing with laughter: 'A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder' opens at ACT

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Be careful what you wish for.

That's a sentiment co-directors Ken Long and Tim Kelley say the hero of their latest production, "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder," should have thought about before coming up with a plan to avenge his wronged and sainted mother.

On the other hand, had the gentleman in question, Monty Navarro, actually heeded that instinct, the audience to his guide likely wouldn't have nearly as much fun. And for anyone who takes their musical comedies black with a side of slapstick, that would be a loss, indeed.

"A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder" opens Friday at Albany Civic Theater for a four-weekend run. Tickets are on sale at the box office and online at albanycivic.org. (See info box for details.)

Navarro (a role shared by Colby Montigue and Clayton Hollingsworth) grew up poor, and his mother died of an illness the family couldn't pay to treat. When he learns his mother was actually a disowned member of the rich and powerful D'Ysquith family — and that he, Monty, is actually Lord Montague, ninth in line for an earldom — he decides the perfect act of vengeance is to bump off all eight D'Ysquiths who stand between him and the family fortune.

Does he accomplish his goal? Does he get away with it? Does he find the "love" promised in the guide's title? How do you say "D'Ysquith," anyway? And while we're at it, why do all the D'Ysquiths, men and women alike, bear a suspicious resemblance to longtime Albany Civic Theater thespian Dean Keeling?

We'll go ahead and give you that last one. That is Keeling, ready to sing, dance and act the part of a whole family of D'Ysquiths. It's a wonderful opportunity for a multitalented actor and great fun for the audience, Kelley said, but it's also a challenge backstage.

"We have a team of six backstage for Dean just to change his clothes," he said.

Added Long: "Twenty-seven seconds, (and) he has to be on."

Stage crews also get a workout during the production. "There are so many props, oh my goodness," Kelley said. "There are so many set pieces. I've lost count." 

But experienced actors and crew members have kept everything going smoothly, directors said. The cast includes Samantha Johnson and Alyson Fewless, who share the role of love interest Sibella Hallward; Karen Kumley as another potential love interest; Jillian Griffith as the mysterious Miss Shingle, who tells Monty of his heritage; and an ensemble that includes Bill Brown, Jacob Birchard, Barbara Hogan, Jakob Holden, Drew May, Kasper O'Neill, Alice Tucker and Michael Yuan.

Crew members include Loriann Schmidt on light design and Zoey Leventhal on the light board, Laura Blackwell on projection and Aiden Newman on sound. "Guide" audiences will be the first to see a new electronic curtain rod in action at ACT, with wifi that allows the curtain to be controlled by remote. 

"Guide" premiered in 2012 and won the Tony for Best Musical two years later, along with Tonys for best musical direction, best costume design and best book of a musical. 

Kelley saw a traveling Broadway production in Portland a few years after that and grabbed the rights as soon as they were available. 

"It was just hilarious," he said. "I thought, 'I have to be in this show. And if I can't be in it, I want to direct it.'" 

Deaths notwithstanding, the show is very family-friendly, the directors promise. And while Monty's wish will come up against some sticky situations, like most great musicals, you can expect a happy ending — at least for the characters who make it to curtain call.

"Just enjoy some good fun onstage," Kelley said.

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